Pasco buys first of two water companies. Rates go up countywide.

Another increase will finance buying the former Lindrick system in 2021.
Pasco County approved an increase in water and sewer rates for its 120,000 customers to help finance the acquisition of three utility systems now owned by the Florida Governmental Utility Authority.
Pasco County approved an increase in water and sewer rates for its 120,000 customers to help finance the acquisition of three utility systems now owned by the Florida Governmental Utility Authority. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Dec. 16, 2019

DADE CITY — Pasco County is raising its water and sewer rates to complete the purchase of a 3,600-customer utility, and at least one county commissioner already is worried about the cost of the next acquisition.

"I’m still not very fond of having to come back next year and do another rate increase,'' said Commissioner Mike Moore.

Moore’s comments came last week as commissioners approved the $17.7 million purchase of the Aqua system from Florida Government Utility Authority. The utility, serving Jasmine Lakes and Palm Terrace in west Pasco and Zephyr Shores near Zephyrhills, has 3,600 water and 3,100 sewer customers.

When the county assumes control of the property in June 2020, the current Aqua customers will see their average monthly bills drop from as much as $141.14 to $76.78 for 6,000 gallons of water.

But the county’s existing 120,000 customers will see an increase to help finance the acquisition. The 2 percent rate increase will add about $1.56 to the monthly bill of a county customer using 6,000 gallons of water that now totals $75.32

The purchase drew support from Ken Dabbs of Gulf Harbors in west Pasco who complimented commissioners on the buy-out. The authority-owned Lindrick system that serves Gulf Harbors is next on the county’s acquisition list.

But David Janeway, who lives in the Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club in east Pasco, wondered why the cost was being spread countywide and asked commissioners to seek alternative funding.

"It’s about time they’ve been brought in (to the county utility system). It seems like we’re about 30 years behind,'' said Janeway. "Before we raise (rates) on everybody else, have we exhausted every opportunity to find other revenue to pay for this?''

That was Moore’s concern, too. He asked the county staff to earmark $3.6 million from the sale of county-owned property on Old Pasco Road toward the utility purchases.

"I think we need to possibly look at those dollars to bring down the contribution for our fellow citizens,'' said Moore.

The contribution, however, "would not provide meaningful rate reduction considering the amount of debt,'' said Mike Carballa, the assistant county administrator for infrastructure.

The utility purchase price equates to the debt of each. Earlier this year, the Lindrick debt was listed at $24.6 million, according to the authority.

Other commissioners didn’t publicly share Moore’s concerns.

"We have a goal to be that premiere county. This is a major step to do that,'' said Commissioner Jack Mariano.

Earlier this year, commissioners agreed to the countywide subsidy as part of acquiring the former Lindrick and Aqua utility systems from the authority. Customers of both systems have complained about exorbitant rates. The Lindrick purchase is scheduled to be completed in 2021 and also will carry a 2 percent rate increase.

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Lindrick, has 3,100 water customers, and wastewater from the 2,600 sewer customers is treated by the city of New Port Richey. A 2017 study showed that customers there paid more than $101 a month for 4,000 gallons of water, or 80 percent more than nearby county utility customers.

Separate from the cost of buying the utilities, commissioners previously approved a four-year rate increase of approximately 2 percent annually to maintain the county system. Customers are now in the third year of that rate increase, and the price of water and sewer service will go up again Oct. 1, 2020.